The View from Sherlock Peoria (19)
Back to SherlockPeoria front page October 6 , 2002 Back to The View from SP Archives
Questioning Irene's Fate . . .
Part of the great fun of being a Sherlockian is the limited facts with which we are presented in the Holmes stories, and the theories Sherlockians can spin off of them . . . theories which are never one hundred percent provable, and almost always very arguable. In our local scion newsletter, I recently put out the following bit of speculation (herewith, slightly new and improved), which another internet Sherlockian of note found very arguable. (In fact, his argument against is probably even better than my original thesis, and a link to it will follow.)
Heres a lesson if youre thinking about blackmailing someone.
While only three percent of the criminals in the Canon are blackmailers, it should be noted that they are treated a bit differently from any other sort of criminal in the tales, a trend that came up in our story discussion last meeting. Think about it for a second:
McCarthy blackmailer murdered.
Lucas blackmailer murdered.
Milverton blackmailer murdered.
Hudson blackmailer murdered. (Well, at least Watson thought he was.)
Blackmail comes up by name in eight stories in the Canon of Holmes: "The Yellow Face," "The Gloria Scott," "The Reigate Puzzle," "Charles Augustus Milverton," "The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, "The Red Circle," and "The Three Gables." Three of the tales involve societies in which blackmail is just a part of their activities: the Scowrers, the Red Circle, and the Moriarty gang. The leaders of all three gangs, Boss McGinty, Black Giorgiano, and Professor Moriarty, all meet with death as a result of their crimes. Death seems to inevitably follow blackmail, more certainly than any other crime in the Canon of Holmes.
In fact, theres really only one notable blackmailer who gets off: Irene Adler. Now, it might be that she was a woman, or it might be that she appears to take back her threats to her victim, but then again, we must remember that Watson eventually refers to her as the late Irene Adler. Was it . . .
Adler blackmailer murdered?
That is where my written speculations ended in the newsletter. At our scion meeting, where a glass of champagne or two might have had my tongue wagging a bit more wildly, though, I took that theory further: what if Charles Augustus Milverton was really just Watson dressing Irene up as a boy, an Irene who took her blackmailing career further. Admittedly, that theory was a bit of a reach. It's main proof was found in the weird notion that Milverton's killer called him a hound as she shot him. "Take that you hound -- and that! -- and that! -- and that! -- and that!" Milverton's mysterious killer is female, and the idea of this lady calling a man she hates enough to kill him seems a bit tame. But what if Milverton were also female? Re-read the killer's line substituting the term for a female dog, and you get the exact line a woman would use for the object of her absolute hatred.
If Irene was indeed a career blackmailer, she could also have been the blackmailer that Holmes was thinking of when he told Watson he had to stay in London in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Of course, as is the Sherlockian way of things, all my "Irene the blackmailer" theories have already been shot down by a learned colleague, David Richardson, whose rebuttal you may see at http://members.aol.com/mfrankland/blackmail.htm (David's other Irene writings can be found at http://members.aol.com/mfrankland/ireneframe.htm.)
But that's the reason we call Sherlockian scholarship a game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But the fun is in the playing . . .
Your humble correspondent,